The story goes that during the heresy trial of Joan of Arc in 1431, the inquisitor said to her, “You say God speaks to you, but it’s only your imagination.”
Joan is said to have responded, “How else would God speak to me, if not through my imagination?”
What other way, indeed? What other way would Spirit speak to us, but in the way that calls to our dreams, our best and highest?
Today we are looking at the power of our imagination, the faculty that enables us to take the whispers of Spirit and shape them into dreams and, ultimately, actions that give our lives joy and meaning. As Charles Fillmore wrote: “God gives to his image the power to express all that he is.”
For Fillmore, our imagination was indeed the Divine Mind thinking, and then taking shape through us. What an amazing power, a wonderful capacity to use our humanity to express Spirit here on earth!
Imagination Is the Energy That Powers Us on Every Journey
It provides our inspiration at the beginning, and on the way continues to supply hope, incentive, and vision. None of us would take a step on our hero’s journey without the power of our imaginations to keep us going.
What child doesn’t think he or she is going to change the world? Stories inspire us to believe that we can.
Think about your own imagination – think about the places it has taken you over your life. Books you have read, dreams you have dreamed. When I was a kid I used to read at night with a flashlight under the covers — stories of princes and kings, battles, great adventures, heroism and courage. Those moments introduced me to new worlds, gave me new visions of what life can be. It’s not that the books were instructive; rather, they gave me the opportunity to invest them with my imagination, to expand my view of the possibilities open to me.
Never Underestimate the Power Of a Story To Inspire Us, Capture Our Imaginations, and Tell Us That We Are More Than We Think We Are
This week is the beginning of Passover, one of the most significant holidays for Jews around the world. Passover celebrates the departure of Jews from captivity and exile in Egypt, and the beginning of their journey with Moses to the Promised Land.
Passover Seders, on the first night, involve telling a wonderful story of liberation and transformation. They begin with the smallest, youngest child who can ask the ceremonial question: “Why is this night different from every other?” And so the story is told again, and again.
The meaning of Passover is not only to commemorate an ancient story. The purpose is also for Jews today to internalize it, to feel it in a way that only imagination can express. To experience the fear of being dislodged, the flight into the desert, the uncertainty of passage through the desert, and ultimately the deliverance to a new beginning. This story is not simply dry, ritualistic history from 33 centuries ago. Every year, the story invites the listener into a new journey and a new transformation.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, taught:
We don’t just remember. We re-enact, eating matzah, the unleavened bread of affliction, tasting maror, the bitter herbs of oppression, and drinking four cups of wine, each a stage in what Nelson Mandela called the long walk to freedom. And it all begins with the question asked by a child, why is this night different? I can still picture in my mind those nights long ago when I was the child. They gave me my first induction into the ideals I’ve tried to carry with me into adult life, above all a sense of fellow feeling with others who suffer, eating their own bread of affliction.
I think of a friend of ours who, hearing about the earthquake in Haiti, managed to get there quickly and found people desperate for water. He found a 3,000 gallon container, located the nearest water purification plant, hired a lorry and brought water to a tent city of survivors in Port au Prince. It helped, but he could see that it wasn’t enough. So he got out his computer and started an email blog and within 48 hours he had offers of help from 200 others, and by the time he left he’d provided a water supply for 300, 000 people until the infrastructure could be repaired.
I think of another friend, a woman in New York, who was watching a documentary about the plight of orphans in Rwanda ten years after the massacre. She thought immediately, I’m Jewish, I’m supposed to help, and so she began contacting people who’d had experience helping child survivors of the Holocaust, and within a few years they’d constructed the Agahozo Shalom youth village in Rwanda, housing 750 young people, teaching them advanced agricultural and computer skills, and training them to become leaders who can teach those skills to others.
Small acts, perhaps, but adult outcomes of the story of Passover, that taught us as children that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is. Slaves can go free. The hungry can be fed. We can become God’s partners in the work of redemption. Never underestimate the power of a story to enlarge the moral imagination.
Our Imaginations Have the Power to Literally Change Our Lives
Charles Fillmore taught: “What a man imagines he can do, he can do.” He taught that the whisper of spirit, of inspiration, comes to us through our intuition, those ‘aha’ moments when a thought simply appears out of the ether.
It is our imagination that grasps the inspiration and gives it form. It’s our imagination that ensures the whisper, that slim idea, doesn’t simply float away; that we give it shape and form through our creative faculty. Our will and our belief give it substance, make it manifest. This is Law of Attraction 101, and it would never happen without our imagination.
As I was researching this topic, I spent a good bit of time finding more out about one of the greatest thinkers and creators of our time, Albert Einstein. I was drawn into his story because he is the poster child for the creative use of imagination.
You may not know that when Einstein was an undergraduate he was not seen as anything special. As an undergraduate he used to cut class and his professors saw him as a bit of a slacker. Upon graduation he was unable to secure a teaching post, and he ultimately moved to Berne, Switzerland and got a job as a patent clerk, reading patent applications.
This job gave Einstein a lot of time to think. It was while he was in the patent office, in 1905, that he had his ‘miracle year’ in which he published four scientific papers, including what’s been called the world’s most famous equation, E=MC2.
How did Einstein generate the spark that revealed to him these truths? He occupied his mind with what you or I would call daydreaming, but what he called ‘thought experiments.’ He conceived an idea and then let his imagination go, without boxes, rules, or limits.
For his special theory of relativity, Einstein imagined what it would be like to ride a beam of light. For his theory of general relativity? He imagined a man falling off a building, and then the same man encased in a falling elevator. He realized the man would be weightless. Matter and energy interact with the space time continuum to give us what Newton called gravity. He obtained revolutionary insights about the curvature of space, and indeed that space and time were interdependent.
Einstein was famous for being able to sit for hours and think. He would just look out the window and wonder – putting together mathematical equations in his head, daydreaming about possible relationships of energy and velocity and mass, or simply letting his mind wander.
When he was stuck, or if he found it difficult to solve a particular problem, Einstein might go for a walk, knowing that his unconscious mind would continue to work on the puzzle. Sometimes he would play his violin; he once said Mozart’s music “was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.” Einstein also spent hours solving mathematical equations, discovering what worked and what didn’t. He once said, “I want to know God’s thoughts in a mathematical way.”
So . . . what if Einstein had been sitting in his office, gazing out the window while the spheres of the universe danced in his head, with equations changing and morphing, and his supervisor had come in, slammed the door and said, “Albert, stop sitting around and get to work!”
Even worse, what if Einstein himself had said, “I have to stop being so unproductive! What have I done today? I have nothing to show for it!” Without Einstein’s willingness and passion for imaginative thinking, what would our concepts of time, space, matter, energy, and gravity be today?
The Power of Imagination — Cultivated and Treasured
Let me ask you this. Do you ever simply sit quietly and let your mind wander, like Einstein did? Just give it a question and let it go?
I think we don’t daydream enough. Our imagination is the font of all creativity, and we miss out on so many opportunities to engage it. What do we do when we have five minutes of silence and nothing to do? We look at our phones, we check the news, we fill up that wonderful opportunity with mental busyness.
We think daydreaming is unproductive. What lunacy! We think if we are not doing something, learning something, writing something, or saying something that we are not being productive.
The truth is, by denying ourselves the opportunity for our minds to just wander and play, we are denying ourselves conceivably our greatest productivity and possibility.
Our Minds, Our Conscious and Subconscious, Are Amazing Generators of Creativity and Invention — If We Let Them Be
So how do we cultivate our imaginations? First of all, turn off the TV, the radio, and your cellphone for a few minutes each day. Then, lighten up! Take time to daydream and let your imagination roam.
Make up stories about how you would like your life to play out; imagine yourself as the hero of your own existence. Pay attention to what piques your curiosity and read a book, tell a story, or start a new hobby. Paint, listen to music with no words, color.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” (Albert Einstein)
As we get older, more experienced, and more ‘realistic,’ we often don’t even notice how we have lost the ability to create, imagine, and envision. We have to cultivate and value our imagination as the gift it is: the innate talent that brings us the most joy and directs us to our soul’s highest adventures. As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will.”
So put down your phone, find a comfortable place to sit, and let your imagination go!
This blog is based on Rev. Melanie’s talk on April 9, 2017.
You can listen to the entire talk on our website or on YouTube at our One World Spiritual Center channel.
Blog by Rev. Melanie Eyre
Spiritual Leader, One World Spiritual Center